Environment, security and the question of quantification
by Joseph Alcamo
International Journal of Sustainable Development (IJSD), Vol. 4, No. 2, 2001

Abstract: The link between environmental change and human security brings together two important issues having to do with nature and society. In the last ten years, great progress has been made in understanding this link, but this new knowledge has been mostly in a descriptive and qualitative form. But now there are some compelling reasons to move from qualitative to quantitative analysis. Quantifying this issue could help researchers to better understand the historical record of environmental change and security threats. It could also help to harmonise the assessment of different global environmental threats, and provide a quantitative foundation to future scenarios of the impact of environmental change on human security. To carry out this quantification, at least three measures of environmental change and human security need to be elaborated: ''environmental stress'', ''state susceptibility'', and ''crisis''. The concept of ''transient environmental stress'' is introduced to describe an undesirable short-term departure from ''normal'' conditions. The concept ''state susceptibility'' (in the context of environment and security) is suggested as the degree to which a state can resist and recover from crisis brought on by environmental stress; and ''crisis'' is defined as an unstable time brought on by environmental stress that requires extraordinary emergency measures to counteract. Various methods are possible for quantifying these measures. For example, for transient environmental stress, newly developed global environmental models can be used. For state susceptibility, it may be possible to build on existing quantitative indices of political capacity and the level of democracy. For quantifying the occurrence of crises, researchers may be able to draw on various compilations of disasters and related events. Finally, a method called a ''security diagram'' is suggested for tying all of these measures together quantitatively. This and other methods may prove to be successful in quantifying the concept of environmental security, if the methodological challenges can be overcome.

Online publication date: Fri, 04-Jul-2003

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